light into ashes
Dec 28, 2009 2:34am
The Dead & Jazz
Them's fightin' words!
Personally I like the Dead more than Davis, but Lesh in particular has spoken about how awed they were about playing after him at those Fillmore '70 shows, and how much he admired that kind of music. (At the time, it would've been new to him - Bitches Brew was only released in April '70!)
[See P.S. at bottom.]
I don't know if the band really took much from Davis' fusion style at the time (Keith apparently did, a couple years later), but you can tell at the 4/12 and 4/15 shows, the jamming is especially inspired. As Kreutzmann put it, they were "totally embarrassed" following Miles - "we played really free, loose, but I couldn't get Miles out of my ears."
In interviews, the band referenced Coltrane a lot more as someone who influenced them even from the start in '65. They were very enthusiastic about the 'modal jamming' style that Davis & Coltrane initiated (basically, improvising in one chord or scale, rather than through a song's chord progressions) - Viola Lee & Midnight Hour were the first tunes where they tried this out.
Lesh said, "It was the simplest thing to do, because you didn't have to remember any chords." Weir agreed: "The first thing we learned was to rattle on in one chord change for a while....that was good for me, because I didn't know many chords."
In his book Lesh talks about how, as they got better, they used Viola Lee to all solo simultaneously, like jazz musicians, rather than just backing Garcia. "We electrified the song with a boogaloo beat and an intro lick borrowed from Lee Dorsey's 'Get Out oof My Life Woman', and we tried to take the music out further - first expanding on the groove, then on the tonality, and then both, finally pulling out all the stops in a giant accelerando, culminating in a whirlwind of dissonance.... I urged the other band members to listen closely to the music of John Coltrane, especially his classic quartet, in which the band would take fairly simple structures ('My Favorite Things', for example) and extend them far beyond their original length with fantastical variations, frequently based on only one chord."
You could hardly find a clearer example of the Dead being directly influenced by jazz techniques!
(Here's one introductory article about examples of modal jams in rock music - http://dog-goneblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/modal-exploration_30.html
And from the same blog, a post about another "jazz" musician that Garcia closely listened to - http://dog-goneblog.blogspot.com/2009/08/gypsy-king.html
I posted a little bit about the Dead's jazz influences in this piece: http://www.archive.org/iathreads/post-view.php?id=257577
Their influences were many & wide though, and the Dead created something totally distinct. Garcia was especially influenced by bluegrass & old-time stringbands, what he called "conversational music", the way the instruments related to each other. Lesh had the most avant-garde leanings in the group, and he was the happiest to go to the noisy side.... The band got into Indian music heavily after '67, which left a big imprint in their playing.
And so on....point is, you can rarely point to any single artist or piece of music and say, "That influenced the Dead's style!" For example, Garcia was a big Freddie King disciple when he was learning electric guitar, but by '69 there's hardly a trace - they keep transcending the things they learn from.
Also, as musicians, I think they listened differently than most of us - Garcia's quotes in my article, for instance, show that he was listening very specifically for what you might call the "voice" in the playing - one horn player's silences, or another's phrasing.
Here's Garcia talking about one tune that influenced the early Dead - the Junior Walker instrumental 'Cleo's Back': "There was something about the way the instruments entered into it in a kind of free-for-all way, and there were little holes and these neat details in it - we studied that motherfucker, we might even have played it for a while... It was the conversational approach, the way the band worked, that really influenced us."
P.S. - It's worth quoting Lesh on the shows with Miles Davis in April '70:
"As I listened, leaning over the amps with my jaw hanging agape, trying to comprehend the forces that Miles was unleashing onstage, I was thinking, 'What's the use? How can we possibly play after this? We should just go home and try to digest this unbelievable shit.' This was our first encounter with Miles' new direction. Bitches Brew had only just been released, but I know I hadn't yet heard any of it... In some ways, it was similar to what we were trying to do in our free jamming, but ever so much more dense with ideas, and seemingly controlled with an iron first, even at its most alarmingly intense moments. Of us all, only Jerry had the nerve to go back and meet Miles, with whom he struck up a warm conversation. Miles was surprised and delighted to know that we knew and loved his music."
This post was modified by light into ashes on 2009-12-28 10:34:24